1 Nephi Chapter 5
1 And it came to pass that after we had come down into the wilderness unto our father, behold, he was filled with joy, and also my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad, for she truly had mourned because of us.
2 For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.
3 And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father.
verses 1-3 These are poignant verses! Sariah had despaired for her son's safety. She was probably beside herself. It was as if the Lord were stretching her to the brink of her faith. It was one thing to leave a comfortable lifestyle, but quite another to have her most precious blessing torn from her. Children were the focus of life for women in ancient Israel (see Psalm 127:3; 128:3). Only in their roles as mothers did Israelite women receive honor and authority. More specifically, being a mother of sons created a woman's greatest source of joy and comfort. Sons were seen as a particular blessing not only because they could defend the family in the face of opposition, but because they promised a continuation of the family name. The loss of a son would have been almost insurmountably devastating to a mother like Sariah. When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land.
Even a great lady with the noble character of Sariah can become low and begin to murmur. Turn also to 1 Nephi 16:20. This latter verse is even more surprising. Even the great prophet Lehi murmured! Even after all the visions and the spiritual favors he had enjoyed, he murmured against the Lord! Sariah murmured. Lehi murmured. All the boys but one murmured, and he was the one keeping the record! It is human to become discouraged in difficult circumstances!
4 And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying: I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
5 But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.
verses 4-5 Note Lehi's verb usage here-"but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren" and "behold I have obtained a land of promise" (italics mine). Hebrew prophets often used the past tense to describe events yet in the future which had been seen in prophecy. This has been called the "prophetic perfect" verb tense and is typical of Hebrew writing. At this time Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed, and no one had as yet perished. Also he was thousands of miles and many years away from reaching his land of promise. However, he had seen a vision, read the heavenly book, and the events which he envisioned were already present for him. He was indeed a "visionary man." For other examples of the "prophetic perfect" verb usage, see 2 Nephi 31:8, spoken in 559-545 BC and Mosiah 15:12, spoken in 148 BC.
6 And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem, to obtain the record of the Jews.
7 And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted.
verses 4-7 Lehi responded to Sariah's criticism with comforting words. He had been promised that his sons would return, and he firmly believed the promise.
How old do you suppose Lehi was when he and his family left Jerusalem? It is not known, of course, but it has been estimated that he was about forty or fifty years old. This estimate is based on the fact that Lehi and Sariah had four sons of marriageable age-Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi-when the family departed Jerusalem.
8 And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak.
verse 8 What if Nephi and his brethren had not returned safely? Do you suppose that Sariah's faith might have been fatally injured by the tragic circumstances? Some readers might even tend to be critical of her and say something like: "She should have been more faithful! After all, was she not the wife of a prophet, and had she not already agreed to leave her home and travel into the wilderness? Had she not heard in great detail about her husband's vision and call from the Lord?" Sariah was much like the rest of us. Her faith was still growing and developing. A person with perfect faith is not shaken by any number of difficult trials here in mortality. He or she simply accepts the experiences which life has to offer and thanks God for the experience. But who among us is perfect? And which of us doesn't wax and wane a little in our faith? Sariah is obviously human, and perhaps we can identify with her more easily because she is!
"Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness" Camille Fronk has asked some interesting questions about Nephi's account of his mother Sariah in these verses ("Desert Epiphany: Sariah & the Women in 1 Nephi," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 9, number 2, 5-15): "Why would Nephi choose to record this incident to focus our attention on his mother-an incident that clearly manifests her murmuring against Lehi? Why not choose an experience that more obviously showed her spiritual strength?" Dr. Fronk sees this episode as one in which Sariah gained a vital increment in her testimony of her husband's mission. Sister Fronk concludes: "To establish Lehi and his family in a new land where they would inspire and instruct later generations to come unto Christ, God needed more than a father and a son (as successor) to possess a testimony tried in the fire of affliction. God also needed a matriarch, weathered by her own trials of faith and armed with her own unwavering witness, to stand steadfast with her prophet-husband" (Ibid.). The reader should take note of the fact that there is no indication that Sariah ever murmured again!
9 And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.
verse 9 See the discussion of sacrifices in the commentary for 1 Nephi 2:7. The offering of sacrifices and burnt offerings unto the Lord was a distinctly Hebrew custom and a part of the law of Moses. Were Lehi and his family Hebrews? They were. What is a Hebrew? The name Hebrew derives from the son of Shem, whose name was Eber, and is synonymous with Israelite. It is an unimportant, but interesting, fact that the word Hebrew is found in only one verse in the Book of Mormon, Mormon 9:33. In that verse, it is found three times.
The word Israel is pronounced Yisrael in Hebrew. The name combines two roots sara (persevere, persist) and el (god), and it literally means "let God prevail." The term Israel, as found in the Book of Mormon, has three main contexts:
1. It can refer to a descendant of the man Israel-Jacob, the son of Isaac. As the blood of Israel, these people are often identified as a member of one of the tribes of Israel (Numbers 2). The Jews are the most identifiable remnant of Israel's lineage on the earth today. Most references to Israel in the Book of Mormon relate to this particular meaning-they refer to the lineage or house of Israel.
2. It may refer to the land where the Israelites live. The land Israel is the territory in biblical times variously called the land of Canaan, Israel, Judah/Judea, Palestine, or the Holy Land. It is now mostly encompassed in the modern State of Israel.
3. It may refer to a covenant people whose obedience empowers them to prevail together with God in righteousness. Covenant Israel includes those who are true believers of the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of lineage or geographical location. Nephi will be taught that those who do not harden their hearts against Jesus Christ will eventually be numbered among the covenant people of Israel. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who comes unto Christ will be eventually adopted into the house of Israel. However, those of the lineage of Israel who do not repent, follow the Lord, and honor their covenants will be cut off from the house of Israel. Covenant Israelites are the true heirs to the great promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
10 And after they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning.
verse 10 Notice that Lehi did not just read the scriptures, but rather he searched them! Mere reading of the scripture has some value, but how much more do we derive from pondering, digging, inquiring, and in fact "feast[ing] upon the words of Christ" (2 Nephi 32:3)?
11 And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;
12 And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;
13 And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.
verse 13 "many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah" Were the writings of the prophet Jeremiah recorded on the plates of brass? Since the prophet Jeremiah was a contemporary of Lehi, it is improbable that his complete writings were contained on the plates of brass. Some critics of the Book of Mormon have pointed to this as an error of Joseph Smith's. Notice, however, that the verse does not say that Jeremiah's writings were on the plates of brass. Perhaps Nephi intended to say that some of Jeremiah's own writings and prophecies had been recorded on the plates of brass. Or perhaps Nephi is here referring to the fact that Jeremiah, in his preaching and warning of Judah, reiterated pertinent prophecies made by previous prophets.
14 And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine.
verse 14 When the plates of Laban are returned to Lehi, the great prophet is in ecstasy over them. He learns his genealogy. Lehi is a descendant of Joseph (through Manasseh-see also Alma 10:3).
Ancient Joseph was, in his day, a "savior" of his father and his father's household or family. The covenant blessings which he received from his father Jacob accorded Joseph's posterity the future role of being a "savior" of the house of Israel. It would be Joseph's seed to whom the other tribes would look for temporal and spiritual salvation (Genesis 37:5-10). Joseph's seed would spread abroad to the Americas (Genesis 49:22). Joseph's seed would write another testament of Christ-the Book of Mormon (Ezekiel 37:16-20; 2 Nephi 3:12). Through Joseph's seed would arise a namesake prophet, Joseph Smith, who would become an "ensign" for the gathering of Israel in the latter days (JST, Genesis 50:30-33; 2 Nephi 3:6-8; 2 Nephi 3:9-11; 2 Nephi 3:16; D&C 113:6). Joseph's seed would bestow the ordinances of the Lord's temple upon redeemed Israel prior to the Savior's advent (D&C 133:30-35).
The latter-day work of the seed of Joseph would be directed by the descendants of Joseph's younger son Ephraim who received the birthright blessing from his grandfather Jacob (Genesis 48:17-20). In one sense, the line of prophets introduced into the Americas by Lehi and Ishmael (see 1 Nephi 7) were forerunners for the latter-day restoration.
verses 11-14 The "five books of Moses" presumably correspond to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in our modern Bible. Today some biblical scholars question the authorship of these books. Because of verse 11, we should not.
The "account of the creation of the world" contained in the Bible and in the plates of brass was revealed directly to Moses and recorded by him. The historical portions of the book of Genesis, however, were likely obtained from the writings of Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and perhaps the sons of Jacob.
We have reason to believe that the record contained on the plates of brass was a more complete record than we have available to us today in the Old Testament. What is that reason? Read carefully 1 Nephi 13:23. Some of the specific additional insights contained on the brass plates included: an inference that Abraham knew and prophesied of the advent of Jesus Christ (Helaman 8:17), prophecies of father Jacob concerning the Nephite branch of his descendants (Alma 46:24-26), prophecies of ancient Joseph in Egypt regarding Moses's delivering of Israel and of Joseph Smith (2 Nephi 3), and prophecies by otherwise unknown ancient prophets such as Zenos, Zenock, and Neum (1 Nephi 19:10-17; Jacob 5 and 6; Alma 33:3-17; Alma 34:7; Helaman 8:19-20; Helaman 15:11; 3 Nephi 10:16).
Several years later in the Book of Mormon story, after the arrival of Lehi's family in the western hemisphere, Lehi will lecture his son Jacob on the Fall of man, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the Atonement (2 Nephi 2:17- 27). Undoubtedly Lehi obtained the insights evidenced in this lecture from the brass plates.
15 And they were also led out of captivity and out of the land of Egypt, by that same God who had preserved them.
16 And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records.
verse 16 Here we learn that, like Lehi, Laban was also a descendant of Joseph, the son of father Jacob. Joseph, of course, had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Laban and his paternal ancestors had kept the "record," the brass plates. It is logical to speculate that the record had been kept in the birthright sub-tribe of the larger tribe of Joseph-that of Ephraim. We may thus further speculate that Laban was descended from Joseph through Ephraim.
Just how, in 600 BC, did Lehi, a descendant of Joseph through Manasseh, and Laban, a descendant of Joseph probably through Ephraim, happen to be in Jerusalem? Let us review briefly the history of ancient Israel and then speculate as to how that might have happened. After the death of Solomon in about 931 BC, civil war divided Israel into (1) the Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the northern ten tribes under the rebel leader Jeroboam, with its center in Samaria, and (2) Judah, comprised of the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) under Solomon's son Rehoboam with its center in Jerusalem. For the next 210 years, the two existed separately as enemies.
Between 732 and 722 BC, the Assyrian army crushed the northern kingdom and carried away some 27,290 of its educated aristocracy and anyone with any leadership ability back to Assyria. The area formerly inhabited by the Kingdom of Israel was subsequently populated by some Assyrian colonists who intermarried with the many remaining Israelites. The offspring of these mixed Assyrian/Israelitish people came to be called Samaritans, and their land Samaria.
Sidney Sperry wrote: "The forebears of Laban may have fled to Jerusalem to prevent the sacred records from falling into alien hands. Lehi's grandfather or great-grandfather may have left his northern home for Jerusalem in order to prevent his children from intermarrying and making religious compromises with the pagan foreigners who came into the land." Brother Sperry then went on to speculate about the two centuries between the division and the fall of the northern kingdom: "The brass plates may well have been the official scripture of the Ten Tribes. It is probable that some prophets wrote on these plates whose writings may not have been recorded on the records kept in Judah. Were Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias (1 Nephi 19:10; Helaman 8:20) among them? They were all Hebrew prophets known to the Nephites, but their names do not appear in our current Old Testament. It is also possible that the writings of some prophets in Judah were not placed on the brass plates during the period under consideration, but of this we have no way of knowing" (Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 43-44). Thus the suggestion is made that the brass plates had their origin in the northern Kingdom of Israel, rather than in Judah to the south. For further evidence of this, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 19:13.
Were the brass plates in the possession of Laban the only complete copy of the scriptural record of the northern tribe? We don't know the answer to this question, but it seems likely that there were other copies in circulation, perhaps on scrolls of paper or other materials, of the books contained on the brass plates of Laban. There may also have been other complete copies on metal plates, but these were likely possessed by only a select few who had the requisite cultural standing and financial resources. Even Lehi, with all his wealth and spiritual inclination, did not possess the complete record on metal plates.
17 And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed-
18 That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed.
verse 18 In what sense will the "plates of brass . . . go forth unto all nations"? Perhaps in the future the brass plates will be brought forth and be made available for the righteous to study. Or perhaps this prophecy refers to those teachings from the brass plates contained in the Book of Mormon, and it is really the Book of Mormon that will "go forth unto all nations."
19 Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed.
verse 19 The phrase "dimmed any more by time" suggests that Laban had neglected the brass plates. To dim is to make less bright; to tarnish or sully. Such would never again be the case.
20 And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.
21 And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.
22 Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.
verses 21-22 The brass plates were preserved for the descendants of Lehi just as the Book of Mormon has been preserved for the people of our day.